Hosted by

Civil War Antiques

The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians

A Reference site of images, articles, artifacts of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry including the Cal 100 and the Cal Battalion.

Home History Personnel Images Artifacts Cal. GAR Today's 2nd Mass Articles/References


Captain William H. Short (1824 – 1886)

Co. H, 2nd. California Volunteer Infantry (October, 1861 - January,1863)
Co. F, 2nd. Massachusetts Cavalry (April,1863 – December, 1863 )
Co. K, 22nd. U.S.C.T. (January, 1864 – May, 1865)

ShortPainting.jpg (17353 bytes) ShortMaryJane.jpg (19702 bytes)

Short and Mary Jane*
images courtesy of Short's gggrandson

submitted by David Stephenson

"I first ran across Captain Short while researching a skirmish that occurred between the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry and Colonel John Mosby and his 43rd Virginia Cavalry at Coyle’s Tavern, Virginia in 1863. Apparently Mosby and his men surprised the 2nd. Massachusetts troopers while they were dismounted and watering their horses in front of the tavern which was located about three miles from Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia.  At the first sound of the Rebel yell most of the Massachusetts men scattered with the exception of Privates Short and Charles Jenkins who stood their ground and fired at the approaching Confederate cavalry. Their first shots apparently wounded Colonel Mosby who broke off from the fight and took to the woods followed by many of his men. As a result of the temporary withdrawal, Short, who was also wounded, and several Union men escaped to the woods in the opposite direction. Several other Massachusetts men including Jenkins, who was also wounded, remained in the tavern and ultimately surrendered when they ran out of ammunition. Private Short was 38 years old at the time of the skirmish. He was married, the father of 6 children under eleven, and a prosperous farmer when he enlisted in Mayfield, California in 1861. It intrigued me that someone that "mature" with so many responsibilities and so far from the center of action would join the army."

William Hubbard Short was born in Hennepin, Putnam County, Illinois in 1824. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Short, who were pioneers in the Hennepin area. The family was originally from Kentucky and before that, Virginia. John Short served in the local Ranger company during the War of 1812. He died in Hennepin around 1868.

According to his Union Army service record Short stood 6 ft. 2 ins. (which was very tall for the period) had a light complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes. In 1846, at the age of 22, he traveled to San Antonio, Texas to enlist as a volunteer in the Texas cavalry. Short served two six month enlistments; one in Long’s Company, Texas Mounted Rifles as a private for six months in 1847; and then as a sergeant in Colonel Hay’s Company G, 3rd. Texas Mounted Volunteers. The 3rd. Texas Mounted Rifles formed the nucleus of what later became the Texas Rangers. The frontiersmen like Short comprising this unit were also known for the harsh way in which they dealt with anything remotely pro-Mexican during the war in Texas.

By 1848 Short had returned to Illinois and married Mary Jane Smith of Hennepin. Mary Jane was 14 years of age and Short was 24. He traveled with his wife and their two small children by wagon train to Mayfield (present day Palo Alto), Santa Clara County, California in about 1852. He farmed in this general area for the next eight years and according to the 1860 U.S. Census had acquired a personal net worth of $4,000 and employed four hired hands on a leased acreage.

When President Lincoln called for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War, Short enlisted as a private in the 2nd. California Volunteer Infantry. He subsequently received permission to recruit a company of 100 men in Mayfield and San Francisco and was commissioned as a Captain of Company H, 2nd. California Volunteer Infantry.

Rather than go east to fight in the Civil War as they were originally told by the government, Short’s company replaced the Regular U.S. Army troops who headed east to fight. Company H was detailed for garrison duty in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Benicia, Alcatraz, and for many months at Fort Humbolt and Camp Lincoln near modern day Eureka, California. The principal duties of the California units were to guard the California gold (which in part, financed the Union war efforts) against potential Confederate attacks plus to watch the Mormons, British, Russians and the Indians. From all accounts, this was all pretty dreary and unrewarding work for these soldiers and the units suffered from poor morale, desertion and alcoholism. Ten companies of the 2nd. California patrolled approximately 20,000 square miles.

Once it became clear that the California units were not going back East to fight, Short tendered his resignation in December, 1862. Perhaps more than coincidental was the fact that Captain Short was to be summoned before a Board Of Inquiry at Fort Humbolt in early January 1863. The Inquiry concerned his alleged mismanagement of the Indian reservation at Round Valley where many Indians were dying of disease and starvation. His resignation was not accepted until late January, 1863 which was time enough for him to lead one more expedition against the Hoopla Indian band in the redwoods along the Trinity River in Northern California. When the second group of Californians was recruited for the Second Mass. (the California Battalion) Short was one of the last men signed, and as a private, and left for the East.

After a few weeks of training Short and his unit were posted to Washington D. C. The duties of the 2nd. Mass. Cavalry included protecting the Union lines from raids by Confederate cavalry and guerrillas who operated at the edges of the Capital. Most of the time the horse soldiers were placed as pickets at the edge of the Union lines or used in raids upon suspected Confederate stores. The countryside around Washington was empty and gloomy with many homes and barns burned and cattle driven off in an effort to remove the Confederate s from their supplies and supporters and to supply the needs of the Union forces. As a result, the remaining civilians who were for the most part sympathetic to the South, were very hostile to the Union forces. It was not unusual for these people to appear to be innocent farmers by day and active confederate guerrillas raiding Union camps and supply points by night.

When the attack at Coyle’s Tavern took place, Short was on a detail with approximately twenty men with the task of herding 100 horses from the cavalry remount station at Arlington to the Union camp near Fairfax Court House. According to Mosby's subsequent written account, the ambush was hastily planned as he was on his way to burn bridges when he chanced upon the Union convoy. The skirmish occurred long the Little River Turnpike, which I believe is now Route 236, near Fairfax Court House, Virginia at about 4:00 pm. Short is mentioned by name as the first man to fire his weapon at the attacking enemy. I've read one account where Short’s horse was shot from under him, but he kept firing his weapon from the prone position at Mosby. The rest of Union soldiers took cover at Coyle's Tavern. Two of the 2nd Mass. Cavalry men, John McCarty, 29 and Joseph B. Varnum, 37 were killed. Short was wounded along with John McKinney, 29, and George Vierick, 23, but the three escaped capture.

Upon hearing of the wounding and probable death of Colonel Mosby, Governor Lowe of California is reported to have recommended that the man who shot Mosby be immediately promoted. Private Short was advanced to Sergeant as a result.

Short served as a Sergeant in Company F from late August, 1963 until December, 1863. He applied and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in Company K, 22nd. United States Colored Troops (USCT) in January, 1864. At this time he was 38. According to army records, less than half of the men applying for leadership positions in the USCT were accepted. One not only had to believe in the cause of emancipation and arming blacks, but also be very familiar with army regulations and tactics. Additionally, since all white officers captured leading blacks were to be shot by the capturing Confederates, and the black Union enlisted men executed or returned to slavery, fighting to the death was the only option for both officers and enlisted men of the USCT.

Short ultimately assumed command of Company K upon the death of the company commander in the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1864 and in the trenches besieging Petersburg. Upon the assassination of President Lincoln, the 22nd. was ordered to Washington, D.C. where it marched in the front of the procession carrying Lincoln’s coffin from the White House to the Capital Building. They subsequently participated in the search for John Wilkes Booth in Maryland. After the surrender of the Confederate armies, Short resigned his commission and returned to California, eventually settling in San Juan Baptista. There he worked as a laborer. I’m not sure when and why he lost his farm in Mayfield. He eventually moves to his daughter’s home in Topanis, Idaho. There or nearby he died on March 23, 1886.

While William Short attempted to gather the information necessary to apply for a pension, one appears never to have been granted by either the State of Texas for his Mexican War service or the U.S. Government for his Civil War service. His wife, Mary Jane Smith*, who left Short and their six children for another man during his time at Fort Humbolt, applied for a pension after his death. In fact, the Pension Board investigated her shaky claim and denied it on the basis of her notorious and adulterous conduct!